Perspective | Carolyn Hax: Girlfriend Acts ‘fake’ And ‘attention-Greedy’ Around Other People

Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Dec. 9, 2007.

Hi, Carolyn: Sometimes when we are out in a group or with my girlfriend’s close-knit family, I feel like my girlfriend acts fake. Attention-greedy, goofy, childish. As the months have passed and the other parts of “us” have grown and progressed, this thing has remained an issue.

I’m sort of famously neurotic and am struggling to not react so badly to this. We go out, she does this act, I get so annoyed. She’s like a different person when we are alone!

I hate to hurt her feelings, and otherwise we are very in love. She gets very defensive and takes it as an attack on her character, says I don’t fully “accept her.” I don’t want her to change per se, but it drives me nuts. And frankly, it makes me less attracted to her to see her act like a 12-year-old with our friends. I want this to work with her; how do I get past this? How do I talk to her about this? She just becomes angry and says I am trying to control her. We’ve been talking engagement, and I want to figure this out before we move forward. Any ideas?

— Annoyed

Annoyed: None you want to hear, but that’s typical — few people need help seeing what they want to see.

Your girlfriend’s actions aren’t “fake”; they’re awkward, maybe, unnatural-seeming, but not fake. I don’t know her motivation, but what you describe is the behavior of someone uncomfortable in crowds. She is “different” with you alone, the theory goes, because she’s not self-conscious with you. She’s comfortable.

The common mistake here is to see comfort as her “real” self and awkwardness as the “fake” one. Most of us make that mistake about ourselves. But the truth is, your “real” girlfriend both relaxes around you and tenses up in groups. So she’s right — you don’t accept her fully.

If that’s what you want to do, then maybe this will help: I suspect it’s a trait you have in common. Although you may just find adult 12-year-olds annoying, a sentence of yours got my attention: “It makes me less attracted to her to see her act like a 12-year-old with our friends.

I get a whiff of someone who’s embarrassed by their girlfriend’s behavior. This is about the way she reflects on you. It is just a hunch, but if you’re self-conscious, too, then maybe it’s grounds for a more forgiving perspective on her antics.

And if I’m way off, then try this: Does she relax as she acclimates to situations, like bringing you home to her family? You could find acceptance in a combination of patience from you, honesty from her about her social preferences, and a joint effort by you both to find ways to circulate that make you both feel at ease.

That would require a nondefensive conversation with her, though, and for that she needs to feel safe — in other words, your message needs to be that she isn’t doing anything wrong by being herself. It may not be for you, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

So, both approaches hinge on your acceptance that she is who she is. That means it’s time for an honest reckoning with yourself, on whether you can ever love the whole thing.

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